Islamabad, May 20: India's External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee has arrived in the Pakistan capital for talks with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Wednesday.
Mukherjee's arrival in Islamabad was preceded by talks between the Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan here this morning, the prime objective of which was to review the progress made after the fourth round of composite dialogue, and to determine what further confidence-building steps are needed to improve the bilateral relationship.
Salman Bashir led the Pakistan delegation at the talks, while Shiv Shankar Menon led the Indian side.
The eight-point agenda of the talks includes confidence building measures, Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek, Wullar Barrage, anti-terrorism and anti-narcotics, economic cooperation and bilateral friendly exchanges.
Qureshi and Mukherjee will meet on Wednesday and are expected to act on the recommendations made by their respective foreign secretaries.
Meanwhile, Pakistan has announced that it will release 99 Indian prisoners as goodwill gesture to mark the occasion. The Interior Adviser to the Pakistan Prime Minister, Rehman Malik, said that 96 fishermen and three other prisoners would be freed on May 24.
Mukherjee is expected to meet former prime minister and PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif, PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari and Asfayandar Wali Khan the chief of the Awani National Party (ANP) later this evening.
He will call on President Pervez Musharraf tomorrow morning before going for talks with Qureshi. A press conference is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Wednesday and will be followed by a meeting between Mukherjee and Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Wednesday evening.
Tuesday and Wednesday's meetings are the first contact India has had with leaders of a new civilian government in Pakistan, and Mukherjee is expected to brief Pakistan's new leaders about New Delhi's expectations on issues such terror, economic cooperation and cross-border infiltration, besides other topics of mutual interest to the two countries.
India is also expected to press for the launch of more cross-Line of Control (LoC) bus services and the early operationalisation of a truck service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad.
The Indians are likely to propose increasing the frequency of fortnightly Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalakot bus services to make these weekly.
No major breakthroughs are expected on the Kashmir dispute, but Pakistani analysts hope the talks might set the stage for a visit by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh later this year.
The two countries launched peace efforts in 2004 after nearly going to war a fourth time.
While ties have warmed, the two sides have made no significant progress on their dispute over Kashmir, an area to which both have laid claim. By Naveen Kapoor